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Microsoft takes stake in Wink

Continuing its steady onslaught onto the television screen from the computer monitor, Microsoft says it is investing $30 million for a 10 percent stake in Wink Communications.

Continuing its steady onslaught onto the television screen from the computer monitor, Microsoft announced it is investing $30 million for a 10 percent stake in privately held Wink Communications.

As part of the deal, Microsoft and Wink will promote interactive content and commerce for a new standard, known by the initials ATVEF, which allows interactive features over televisions. The companies hope the new format will slowly replace their current proprietary formats.

Microsoft plans to integrate Wink's services into its WebTV Network.

Wink plans to provide ATVEF-capable enhanced television tools for broadcast and cable television networks and advertisers. Their combined offerings will help accelerate the wide adoption of interactive television, the companies said.

Although the actual demand for interactive television has been dampened because of numerous conflicting standards, several major players are hoping the ability to access television programming information interactively will grab consumers' interest.

Just last week, America Online entered into a technology licensing agreement with Gemstar International Group to develop interactive programming guides for AOL TV. AOL also recently formed partnerships with DirecTV, Hughes Network Systems, Philips Electronics, and Network Computer (recently renamed Liberate Technologies) in which the hardware firms will provide advanced set-top boxes and satellite services for AOL TV.

To bolster the position of its operating system for advanced set-top boxes, Microsoft last month also invested $5 billion in AT&T, giving the company an in to provide an additional 2.5 million to 5 million set-top boxes running Windows CE to power AT&T's cable systems with next-generation broadband services. The agreement came on the heels of AT&T's acquisition of cable operator MediaOne in a $54 billion cash deal to offer both broadband and local phone services.

Currently, Wink provides broadcast and television industries with viewer-response services and hopes to optimize the service using ATVEF. Several major cable operators and television networks use Wink products, including NBC, ABC, CNN, and ESPN.

The ATVEF specification defines a content format for interactive television based on industry standards such as HTML and IP Multicast. Content based on the ATVEF specification can be delivered by analog and digital terrestrial, satellite and cable systems and received on any ATVEF-compliant set-top box, digital television or PC, eliminating the need for adopters to develop multiple versions of their programming.